Last fall I planted a half acre pollinator plot at my house with the hopes of increasing pollinators and the aesthetics of my yard. I did a snow-seeding around Christmas with a basic Michigan-based pollinator seed mix. I wanted to broadcast the seed on the snow to get an even spread. The snow melts and works the seeds into the soil as well as cold stratifies them.
Itching for spring (between the snow showers) I have spent some time inspecting my now 5-month-old planting only to find some yard grass, plantain, and random weeds I know to be nothing interesting. My ID knowledge of emerging wildflowers is nothing special, but you would think I could see something out of the ordinary to give me reassurance that I didn’t have a failed establishment.
I bet your planting looks like this too…
The fact of the matter is, your planting did not fail. This is completely normal. For most basic “pollinator plantings” it is a warm-season grass and wildflower mix. The first growing season, native grasses and wildflowers spend most of their energy building their root system. Most of the grasses planted (big blue stem, little blue stem, and Indiangrass) will emerge in bunches rather than a carpet.
Being a warm season mix, most seeds will not germinate or grow until the soil is above 55 degrees and don’t really start to flourish until 73 degrees. This explains why the volunteer lawn grass, which is a cool season grass, emerged and greened up first in my plot, same with the plantain. According to weather.gov, the ground temperature recorded closest to my house on 4/30 is 49 degrees.
More than likely your plot will require maintenance for the first 3 years. Weeds will work to out compete the establishing flowers and should be mowed or weed whacked down. On smaller plots like mine, spot spraying or hand weeding may be an option keeping in mind I have bluebirds and honeybees nearby.
Our Farm Bill Biologist says it takes 3 years for the planting to really take off. “First it sleeps, next it creeps, then it leaps.” Learn more here.
So, don’t feel bad. Yes, the pollinator plot may be a weedy, ugly mess like mine is now, but hold on for warmer weather. Work to keep the weed competition down and your pollinator garden will be flourishing in no time! One of the best things about nature, is it doesn’t have to be pretty all the time to be beautiful. It just naturally is.
By: Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist